As I start writing its 20:48 on Friday evening, December 3rd, 2021. I have never put much store by the annual IDPWD (International Day of People with Disability) on a personal level. There was always work to be done. But today unfolded in a strangely beautiful way.
I stared off listening to Elaine Pagels’ Why Religion? I usually listen to audiobooks because my grip impairment makes holding books no longer a sensual pleasure. Kindle is my next best option. But this time I had to import audio CDs from the USA and transfer their content to my iPhone.
Why Religion? is a deeply personal account of seeking sense midst grief and loss. That’s something we will likely experience in our lives. It is particularly pertinent to acquiring a catastrophic disability – but it is rarely acknowledged. The psychological impact of sudden and profound disability is buried beneath the cheery heroic facade that is much preferred as the public face of disability.
I listened as I sipped a coffee brought from home, in my car, parked at a lookout at Katoomba with a view of Mt Solitary. When I paused to reflect, I heard the wind and the calls of bush birds.
At 9.30 I had a Teams hook up with Anne Skewes, the passionate and clear-headed DEN Executive Champion I first encountered as DEN Chair. Back then she was Deputy Secretary of the Land and Housing Corporation, which was inside Family and Community Services. Anne’s clarity and strength, her compassion and passion were so foundational to the DEN’s success. The fact that we continue to talk is a testimony to her ongoing commitment to personal authenticity. It’s a rare honour for such a relationship to endure.
After that I watched a video featuring DCJ’s current fulltime DEN Chair, Jacqui Duncan and John Hubby, DCJ Deputy Secretary, Corporate Services, and Inclusion Champion. They were talking as part of PurpleSpace’s global Leader to Leader conversations. I know both, so I know the conversation was genuine. The fact it is public helps dissolve the mistrust so often directed at senior leadership by staff with disability. There’s work yet to be done, but this continues the laying of an essential foundation.
Earlier, I had been forwarded an email from DCJ’s Acting Secretary, Catherine D’Elia, sent out this morning to celebrate IDPWD. Among other things, Catherine urged participation in the DEN’s last formal meeting for the year, on the 8th of December. She also wrote: “The DEN does fantastic work by initiating and assisting in the development of plans, policies and procedures that impact on staff with disability”.
The Board has been a powerful supporter of the DEN, and that acknowledgement and support has given many staff with disability the confidence to reach out to the DEN. A few years ago, whenever the then Secretary, Michael Coutts-Trotter, supported the DEN in all-staff emails, there was a surge in membership.
COVID has brought the DEN an unexpected blessing. When I was chair, I was happy with 35 people turning up to meetings – in person and via video conferencing. Now the Secretary can urge a whole department to participate in a Microsoft Teams based meeting. I used to think 35 was good. Now 135 would almost seem like the meeting was poorly attended.
Jacqui Duncan has added a finesse to the DEN Chair role, and she is wonderfully aided and abetted by Sharon Bennett as Deputy Chair Communications. Sharon adds a skill in communications and presentation that lifts the DEN profile to a level I could have only dreamed of. That talent was on display today.
The DEN has become a remarkable influence within DCJ, and that is down to the passion and commitment of the other 2 Deputy Chairs and the rest of the Guidance and Action Team (GAT). I was particularly pleased to see, in one of Sharon’s communiques, long time GAT member, Andrew Lapham adding his voice to promote celebration of IDPWD. Andrew rose to what I understand as now global fame through the ABC’s Love on the Spectrum. He has been a steady and effective voice for Disability Inclusion in Newcastle for a few years now.
At 11:30 I tuned into an event run by the Public Service Commission in collaboration with DEN Connect. It was a good hour of staff with disability sharing their perspectives on what is the potential for Disability Inclusion in the NSW public sector. We now must convince decision makers to listen, and respond.
I was forwarded an email from Michael Coutts-Trotter, now Secretary of NSW Premier and Cabinet. Michael had spoken to the whole sector about the importance of Disability Inclusion, and he had quoted from my blog, referring to me as “a former colleague with disability.” I’ll take that as a deep compliment. It made my day. He could have added my blog link, but, you know, I’ll let that slide past.
I spent the rest of the day finishing off a submission to the Disability Royal Commission. On Wednesday I listened to a personal presentation by a person who works with the Royal Commission. I reached out to him afterwards to see if I could have a conversation. He acquired a catastrophic disability a few years back that put him in a wheelchair as a permanent mode of getting around. He had also a background in theology, which interested me because it suggested maybe a sophisticated reflection on going through such a life changing experience.
I want to write on that at a fairly deep level, so it means talking with people who have developed a habit of deeper inquiry, and who have a capacity for measured reflection.
The upshot was that he looked at my blog and suggested I might submit something on the theme of Disability Inclusion – which is part of the Royal Commission’s brief.
This I did, just before 17:00 this afternoon.
It’s now 22:35 – because I type slowly. It has been a remarkable day. And most unexpected.